Keeping Shabbos

We needed to buy aronot for our apartment/house that we will hopefully have soon. Shira found what she wanted on the IKEA website for $99.99 and we'd decided we were going to get three of them. Then a friend of ours told us that they were having a one day sale and they'd be $49.99 each on Saturday only (limit one per customer). She tried calling but they wouldn't let us purchase them on Friday or Sunday. Shira though spoke to a non-Jewish friend at work who offered to go with her husband and buy them for us since she had to get some stuff at some point at IKEA anyway. When Shira told me about it I was a little uncomfortable with that since it would be asking a goy to do melacha for us on Shabbos. I spoke to Rabbi Marwick (and a couple other people I trust) and he said that it would be preferable not to do that so we'd just have to pay the extra hundred dollars. Too bad.

Shira kept checking the website. I'm not sure why but she loves checking on things she plans on buying and all of a sudden today the website listed the bookcases for just 49.99. Shira tried calling to confirm the price but there was no answer so we immediately jumped in the car and drove out there (about 25 minutes away). When we got there we asked someone where they were and he said, "oh you mean the ones that are on sale Saturday?" We explained the website said the price is 49.99 and he said that it's 99.99 today but we can go talk to a manager if we want.

So we went to find a manager and she said, "It's only Saturday and anyway you guys would be too late. if you want to take advantage of that sale you have to be here before the stores open on Saturday and then we'll give tickets out to the first people in line." We said that the website says they're 49.99 and she said that it says it's only Saturday and she asked some guy to show us and she walked away. The guy showed us the front page of the IKEA site which did say that it's a one day only sale on Saturday so Shira showed him where it said it was only 49.99. On the page of the bookcases it made no mention of it being a one day sale. So he left to go find the manager again

She came back about 5 minutes later and said that she would honor the pirce and give us 1 for the 49.99. We said we wanted 3 so she said that she could give us 2 but that was it. They would have to override the price which they couldn't do at the tellers so we'd have to buy them and then walk over to returns and they'd give us back 100 bucks. So we got 3 for 200 dollars instead of 300. The same price as had the non-Jew bought it for us on Shabbos had she gone before the store opened and waited in line which she probably wouldn't have done because we didn't even know you had to do that. So we really came out ahead. Yay, one more thing falling into place.

Seven weeks from today

In seven weeks from today we will land in Israel to make aliya. We have a lot to get done before we move and we're starting to get a little anxious. We still don't have a house or apartment to live in once we get there but we're actually not very worried about that. Something will come through. I still haven't finalized my contract to work there but I'm pretty confident that will be OK too. Shira has already bought some furniture and appliances. She has already registered the kids in school.

The movers are coming on July 15th. Shira listed a bunch of the stuff on Craig's list and we're starting to sell a lot of the furniture that we're not taking. Shira also cleaned out three bedrooms and got rid of a lot of old clothes that we're not taking. So we've made quite a bit of progres.

This weekend Shira is going to Toronto with the three little kids and then once she comes back she's going to get the house in order and I'm sure that she'll finish everything that needs to be done. I'll try to help where I can and hopefully the kids will at least stay out of the way.

Stem Cell Donation

I got news today that the person to whom I donated my stem cells passed away. I performed the donation about 7 months ago and I knew he was sick because I'd been called to ask if I could donate white blood cells. Originally I was supposed to do this at the beginning of this month but he was too sick so they postponed it until the first week of July. I never found out who he was because the rules are that they only tell you if the recipient agrees after one year. Now, I'll never know.

There have been a couple of drives recently for people to get tested and I also got a phone call last week from someone who was found to be a potential match. The process wasn't that difficult and was rewarding. After I donated I sent an email to a few people describing the process and I figured I'd post it here also so I could just send the link if anyone had questions in the future.

In 1994, when I was in Yeshiva University there was a drive to get people tested for Jay Fineberg who needed a bone marrow donation so I was tested. It didn't cost anything and wasn't a big deal so I figured that I might as well. At that time the only way to get tested was by them taking a little blood. Now I understand that they just take it from the blood. I wasn't a match for him but my sample was put in a national registry. I didn't hear anything until about 7 years ago when I was contacted that I was a potential match. They had tracked me to Missouri but didn't realize that I had moved to Maryland. The mail was forwarded though and they updated my address. Turns out that there was a better match for that person then and I didn't hear anything again until a couple months ago. At that time they told me that there was about a 1 in 12 chance that I'd be the best match.

This time they called again a couple weeks later and said that I should go in for more blood to be drawn so they could do more testing to see if I'm the best possible match. So I went down to Hopkins in Baltimore and they drew the blood. One week later (I was told that it normally takes 2-4 weeks and I'm not sure why mine was faster) I got a call that I was indeed the best possible match. They wanted to be sure that I wanted to continue through the process and donate. I assured them that I did. So they put me in touch with Sarah Pogue at the NIH in Bethesda. She would walk me through everything else that I needed to do.

There are two possibilities for donating marrow. One is a surgical procedure where they take marrow from your back and pelvic bones. The other is a PBSC donation which is done through the blood and is less painful and an easier recover. My patient was a 61 year old man in the US with Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS). His doctors, thankfully, chose the PBSC donation. So they sent a car for me to go to NIH for a complete physical (EKG, chest xrays, blood work etc) to make sure that I was healthy enough to donate. I was so we scheduled the donation.

For 4 days before the donation I had to get shots of filgrastim each day. This increases the number of stem cells in the blood. Most of your stem cells are in the marrow but each person has a few in the blood. The goal during these 5 days is to move as many stem cells from the bones to the blood. The amount  of medicine you get is determined by your weight so I needed 2.6 ml. They don't do more than 2 ml in one shot so I had to get two shots each time- one in each arm. I also had the option to get them in my stomach but I'm very ticklish and there was no way I was going to allow a shot in my stomach. The first shots have to be done at the hospital so they can monitor you. Since it was on a Sunday, Rivka agreed to come with me. They picked us up at 9 AM and we met Sarah at NIH in Bethesda. She gave me one shot in each arm and they didn't really hurt much.

For each of the next three days, a different nurse came to our house to give me the shots. Each time she gave me a shot it hurt more than the previous time. I also had a constant pain in my lower back and a headache. It wasn't unbearable  at all and I really wasn't in a lot of pain (probably because I was taking tylenol) but it was just annoying. By Wednesday though I was also feeling worn down and a little weak and very tired.

Thursday morning, they picked me up at 5:45. I had been up since 4 because I couldn't sleep anymore and had eaten breakfast and caught up on all my email. I got to the hospital around 7 and Sarah met me. She gave me the last shots and a nurse started prepping me for the actual procedure. I hadn't davened at home because it was way too early so I went into a private room to daven and then went back to finish the preps. I had brought two books to read but the nurse told me that it would be too hard to read and I should watch movies instead. So I chose Mall Cop and Slumdog Millionaire.

Then the nurse started hooking me up. From my left arm was a big needle like they usually use to draw blood when you donate with a tube coming out that split into two and went across my body to the machine which was on my right. She also gave me a squeezy ball to squeeze every few seconds. I was told that I could not move that arm at all. Near the right wrist was another needle, much smaller but with three tubes going into it. One was to put the filtered blood back into my body. Another carried water and the third had calcium. The procedure started around 8:45.

I started watching Mall Cop but I was really bored so I asked them to turn it off and to give me my books. I was told to be very careful not to move my left arm at all but I was allowed to move my right arm as long as I was careful so it worked out pretty well reading the book. The only problem was that occasionally I'd forget to squeeze with my left hand. Every time I forgot, the machine beeped and it stopped pumping until a nurse came to turn it back on. After a couple hours they determined how many stem cells were there per liter of blood and how many the patient needed. So they decided that they had to filter about 20 liters of blood. They could have had to do up to 24 liters so this was pretty good. A person only has about 5 liters of blood so they'd filter it and put it back in and then filter it again.

Then I had to go to the bathroom. They were pumping me with water so it didn't help that I had gone just before they put the needles in my arms. I was really feeling uncomfortable so I just had to bite the bullet and try to get it all in the pitcher without spilling. I assured the nurse that I'd be OK on my own but it wasn't easy going while lying down and not being allowed to move my left arm. Thank God it went okay and I didn't spill any.

Soon after that excitement, at around noon Shira came to keep me company. Right after she got there some blood started oozing from the right arm which I had been moving quite a bit so the nurse just fixed the needle and we were good. Shira and I counted down until we had done 20 liters. I finished at around 1:30 and then they finished the paperwork and let us leave. My back was hurting and I had a headache and I was worn down but it was good to be able to move again. I felt that way most of the day on Friday also but by Shabbos morning I was completely OK. The only lasting effects are bruises all over my body. My platelet count was a little low so I have bruises where I got the shots and where the needles were. They don't hurt though and I'm fine.

Shira wrote a nice long letter (we couldn't sign our names) to the recipient and we won't know who it was or how he's doing for at least a year and even then it's only if he agrees. We do know that a doctor from the hospital took the blood to the patient and he had got the marrow the next morning. Even though they took 20 liters of blood from me, they gave  most it back to me and he was left with only about a half liter. It still looked like blood even though it was basically just the stem cells. A refuah shleima to the recipient and hopefully my stem cells will help him live a longer life.

That's basically the email that I sent. We got a letter from the recipient a couple months later thanking us for the gift and telling us a bit about his family but without giving away any details about him personally. We've been rooting for him ever since. We were all sad to get the news today.

RBS it is

After much debate and research we finally decided to settle in the Beit Shemesh area. We just felt that the adjustment would be the easiest for all of us there given the number of Americans who live there and the style of the schools. It's not perfect but no community is perfect so we'll try this out. We're just going to rent at first and we'll see how it is. We've done some investigating of the various neighborhoods and we are leaning towards Ramat Shilo. We have friends there, including our former Rabbi, and there are Americans but there are also Israelis and other olim. We're all excited to finally know where we're going.

Snow, snow and more snow and then some more snow

Half the city of Baltimore wants to make aliya now. It snowed about 28 inches on Shabbos and now it's snowed a lot more today. The kids haven't had school since Friday morning and we have no clue when it's going to start again. Here are some pictures.
This is after the first part of the snowstorm on Monday morning. Since then we've had a lot more snow!

You can see the fence in the background in the picture below. That's a four feet fence. You can see about 6 inches of it. In the picture at the bottom you can see our trees falling down onto the wires of my next door neighbor. He had to go out to try to shake them off so his wires wouldn't break.

Even Shira, who grew up in Toronto, says that she never remembers seeing this much snow. The kids are going crazy being stuck in the house all day. Maybe tomorrow we'll be able to get out a little. We're all very excited to be moving to sunny Israel and not suffering through any more winters like this.

No money

I know that I wrote last week that we wouldn't know for a while but apparently Nefesh B'Nefesh did review our application already. We were  accepted but will not be receiving any financial assistance. In the letter they do say that they'll still provide us with emotional support. That and a few shekel will get me a cup of coffee when I land in Israel.They do provide assistance with the paperwork and stuff like that. We'll probably still take their flight. The only thing we lose by taking their flight is an extra piece of luggage per person. Shira is excited to be on the flight with hundreds of people making aliya at the same time so it's worth the loss of luggage since we're sending a lift anyway. I guess this won't change any of our plans in any way but it sure would have been nice had they also given us money.

We've been approved for aliya!

I just got a call from the Jewish Agency that we were approved for aliya! We didn't really have any doubts about them approving it but it's nice for it to be official. They said that we have to submit the applications for the visa three months before we go. I also spoke to Nefesh B'Nefesh yesterday and they said that they won't have the flight information until Pesach time and they won't review our application until around then. Now we can just concentrate on getting our house in order so we can put it on the market.

People coming and going

Our house has been like Grand Central Station the last couple of days. Yesterday, we had someone come to look at our dining room table and chairs to see if they wanted to buy it, then someone came to buy our bookcases, then for our sukka and then finally the painter came to look over the house again. Today, the painters were here early to start painting and then the cleaning lady came. Someone from came to see if he wanted to buy any of our used seforim. He wasn't that interested in most of the stuff we were dumping but he filled a box. House goes on the market in less than a month and hopefully it will be all ready by then.

Empty bookcases

We emptied all the books from our living room bookcases so we'll be able to move them for the painters on Monday. We also think that we have a buyer for them. We (meaning Shira) are still trying to decide what furniture we're going to take to Israel but we know we're not taking the bookcases because they were just way too tall so we didn't know if they'd fit in our house.
We posted on that we wanted to sell our sukka and someone called us 10 minutes later that they wanted to see it. Hopefully, we'll be able to get rid of that soon too. Making progress slowly but surely. At least we still have a lot more time.